49ers Feel At Home

San Francisco coach Harbaugh likes change in normal routine

By Tom Williams



San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh sees the team’s extended Ohio road trip as a great opportunity for his team to come together even more.

“I like the part that is changing of the routine,” said Harbaugh on Wednesday before the Niners (2-1) practiced at Youngstown State University. “Sometimes the [normal] routine sucks the life out of everybody.

“There are so many good opportunities here that you don’t have in San Francisco as it relates to friendship,” the Niners’ first-year coach, citing, “getting to know maybe one or two other guys better than you did before. I like that [this trip] is out of the norm.”

Last Sunday, the Niners defeated the Bengals, 13-8, in Cincinnati. Instead of flying back to the West Coast, the NFL team owned by John and Denise York of Canfield, flew north and set up team headquarters at the Holiday Inn in Boardman as they prepare for this Sunday’s game in Philadelphia against the Eagles (1-2).

Coaches are traditionally big believers in routine. So was quarterback Alex Smith surprised when he heard that the Niners were going to try something extremely different?

“With Coach Harbaugh, no,” Smith said. “He’s a guy who is constantly trying to get better, find an edge, definitely thinks outside the box.

“So when this came out, it didn’t surprise me,” Smith said.

The YSU football team’s next game is not until Oct. 8 so the Niners are practicing at Stambaugh Stadium and on the Penguins’ new practice fields, and training at the new WATTS indoor facility.

“There’s plenty of equipment over there,” Harbaugh said. “Everything we need, [you’ve] got here.”

As for extended bonding, Harbaugh admitted that some guys will take advantage of the chance to bond. Others won’t.

“I see some guys doing that,” Harbaugh said.

Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis said they feel the team already is tight.

“We’re all pretty close as a team, anyways [so I guess] it’s building on what we already have,” the fifth-year linebacker said.

Smith, the top overall draft pick in 2005, said, “You get to know guys pretty intimately when you are in close quarters and spend a lot of time with each other.”

Harbaugh said the trip has been good for players with roots in the Midwest and East Coast to spend time with family. On the Niners’ day off Tuesday, offensive tackle Alex Boone, cornerback Donte Whitner and wide receiver Tedd Ginn (former Ohio State players) went home to Cleveland.

Among the things he’s learned about his players is that Boone’s wife is pregnant, kicker David Akers trains dogs and linebacker Larry Grant has enlightened the former Michigan quarterback on Ohio State traditions.

Harbaugh doesn’t see the trip as a distraction.

“As coaches and players, we’re pretty adaptable, we’re kind of like big kids,” said Harbaugh, comparing the experience to what youth players on travel teams do. “To me, this is a pretty neat thing.”

“This is where football was born, the Canton Bulldogs right down the street,” said Harbaugh, referring to one of the NFL’s original teams.

Harbaugh, who was hired in January after four seasons as Stanford University’s head coach, said that he was pleasantly surprised in June to learn there are 49ers fans here.

“I got to see the passion for the 49ers here,” the Toledo native said, referring to a fund-raising appearance for the Edward J. DeBartolo Foundation.

As a college recruiter, Harbaugh said his perception was that the Mahoning Valley was “Ohio State or Notre Dame country — good luck getting a player out of here.”

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